How To Stop Negative Thoughts


By Emma Serlin
November 28, 2021

How many times have you thought “I could have done that much better” after giving a presentation or when leaving a job interview? There are lots of potential reasons for under-performance—but one of the most all-pervading is negative thoughts.

We all know the score. We’re speaking perfectly well, and then… the doubts creep in. ‘This isn’t going very well’, ‘They’re bored’, ‘They think I’m stupid’, ‘I’m not as good at this as xxx’.

Pretty soon we’re thinking more about our own negative perception of ourselves than we are about what we are actually trying to say or achieve. Here are some tools and tips to help focus on and accentuate the positive.

First off, can you control your negative thoughts?

There’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that we can’t guarantee an end to negative thought (if only we could, life would be a lot simpler). However, the good news is that we do have a choice about how we respond to our negativity. No matter how ingrained, new patterns of positive behaviour and thought can be encouraged to take hold.

Negative thinking is believed to be a historical behaviour trait that helped us survive way back when. But now, this previously helpful trait makes us create imaginary scenarios in our head and needlessly question our self-worth.

How you make the move changing your negative thoughts to ones that are positive and encouraging is somewhat personal to you, but here are some suggestions to help you stop the undesirable internal dialogue. 

3 ways to eliminate negative internal thoughts

1. Find your triggers

First, identify your most common negative thoughts and think about what triggers them. It might be a person or a particular situation that you associate with this fear or concern. Write these down – this in itself can help to put them into perspective. Once you are conscious of what they are, you’ll be more aware of when the thoughts start to arise and can then work on reversing or dismissing them.

2. Reframe your thoughts

While it might work for some people to simply tell the negative thought to take a hike, it’s often more effective to replace the thought with something else. To do this, for every detrimental thought you have, write down a positive to counter it. For example, if you fear failure, list a success you didn’t think you’d be able to achieve. Or even a time when you failed but it ended up being helpful because it taught you something. And that’s shaped you into who your are today. You could also try affirmations or reason the negative thought away. For example, “Just because I didn’t get that job, doesn’t mean I’m not going to get one that I want in the future.”

3. Surround yourself with positivity

That could be positive people, but it could also be as simple as putting that list of achievements somewhere you can see it, so you can refer to it when you’re having a wobble or need to ground yourself with a dose of realism.

“Lots of people focus on the negative thoughts—and let them crowd out the message they are actually seeking to convey. Remember: communication is all about who you are speaking to and what you are saying.”

- Jamie Chapman, LSW Principal Coach

What works for Jamie is using an image to banish negativity.  He says, “I remember looking after my nephew when he was very little one Christmas afternoon. He was fascinated by our open fire, and wanted nothing more than to stick his hand right in the middle of it! There is no point reasoning with an eighteen-month-old, so I spent the entire afternoon gently, but firmly, pushing his hand out of the way every time he reached for the fire. And that’s my image for negative thought when I’m speaking. ‘Out of the way, I’m busy’.”

Successful business woman with a corporate group

4 ways to boost your confidence

Everything is always a little brighter and more positive if you believe in yourself and what you can achieve. So how can you increase your confidence? Here are three ways: 

1. Look at your list of achievements or events you’re proud of

Go back to that moment and think about how you felt. Chances are, you were feeling confident or you at least had some positive emotion. Remember that feeling. That’s the kind of feeling you want to conjure up when you’re feeling unsure about yourself. Even simply thinking about that memory can help you to feel more positive and confident.

2. Get your body language right

It may sound far-fetched, but research has shown that improving your posture can actually help to raise your self-esteem. A study from Ohio State University asked subjects to either sit up straight or slouch. Those who didn’t slouch had more confidence in their own thoughts – whether they were positive or negative. Even if you feel nervous, you can make sure your body language expresses confidence and openness to help you make a positive impression. Make sure your shoulders are relaxed back, not hunched forward and that your gestures are open i.e. no crossed arms). Create a relaxed facial expression, with warm eyes and remember to smile.  See our blog on postures for more advice. Deep breaths, expanding all the way into your belly are amazing at helping to calm you down.

3. Plan and prepare

It stands to reason that if you going into a meeting without having planned what you’re going to say, you’re not going to be as confident as if you had prepared. This doesn’t need to take long – just create a bullet point list of the things you want to get in the head of your listener.  By committing them to pen and paper, it boosts your ability to remember them. So, for a start, you’re less likely to waffle or forget a key point. You can also refer to your notes to help you keep focused.  If you appear organised, you’ll also project confidence too – whether or not you actually feel it!

4. Notice your emotions

You may be confident usually, but particular people or situations bring out your defensiveness and insecurity. Try noticing when and with whom you move into the defensive zone and what you do when you are feeling defensive. Then you can work on modifying that behaviour.

Download our dedicated eBook, How to Sound More Confident, Even If You Don’t Feel It.

Body language cues

The table below shows the key differences in body language that define whether you appear defensive, relaxed or confident. 

Body

Defensive

Relaxed

Strong and confident

Posture

Shoulders rounded, bent over, small

Shoulders relaxed, not forward or back

Straight spine, shoulders back

Eye contact

Avoiding eye contact, blinking frequently

Light eye contact, sometimes flitting

Direct eye contact

Facial expression

Stiff, inexpressive face, jaw clenching, lip biting

Smiling, bright eyes

Warm and relaxed face

Gestures

Arms close to the body or no gestures at all, arms crossed in front of the body

Flowing, easy gestures, relaxed and loose

Firm hand and arm gestures

How to get rid of bad habits

Bad habits can make you seem less confident and in control. Do you have any of the following bad habits?

Upspeak

This is where you raise the pitch of your voice at the tail end of a sentence, so it sounds as though you’re asking a question. This can make you appear less confident, so use a downward inflection instead – imagine a weight is attached to the end of your sentence.

Overuse of disclaimers

For example, saying ‘I’m not sure I’m understanding this correctly, but… These can make you sound unsure – you need to state your ideas with conviction to make them happen.

Filler words

Using too many filler words, such as "umm", "err", "like" and "ahh" is unnecessary - here's a video to help you eliminate these: 

Try getting rid of one bad habit at a time, so you’re not overwhelmed with all the adjustments you need to make.

To conclude, you really must be realistic with your expectations. You can’t expect everything to be perfect all the time. You’re human, and as such, you’re going to slip up or make mistakes. This is all part of learning and growing, so don’t be afraid of failure now and then – it will help to shape you and make you more resilient. 

If you'd like to take the next step in your communication journey, book a free Discovery Call here

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